Preventive measures aim to ensure maximum accumulation of bone tissue during skeletal growth and maturation as well as reducing bone loss after the skeleton matures.
Approaches therefore differ during each life stage. Adolescence and young adulthood are the times to build skeletal reserve; midlife provides the opportunity to preserve bone mass and assure bone health in future years. In later life, those who may already have developed osteoporosis can take measures to prevent further bone loss and fractures.
Certain risk factors which predispose to the developing of osteoporosis cannot be altered- you cannot change your gender, race or age. You can still however do much to prevent further bone loss.
Read:What is Osteoporosis?
A balanced diet containing adequate calories, minerals and vitamins is required to maintain bone health. Sufficient calories, protein, and vitamin C will ensure normal collagen synthesis.
An adequate Calcium intake is probably the most important bone building mineral. It is a well-known fact that the diet of most individuals in western countries like South Africa, contain insufficient calcium to maintain a positive calcium balance.
Reasons for limited consumption include a distaste for dairy products, fear of calories and fats (although skim milk actually contains slightly more calcium than full cream milk), true milk allergy (rare in adults) and lactose intolerance which occurs frequently in the elderly, Blacks and Asians. Fermented lactose products like cheese and yoghurt are however tolerated by most.
Whereas calcium is an essential mineral required to build bone mass and to slow age-related bone loss, calcium alone will not protect against bone loss resulting from oestrogen deficiency in the post-menopausal female; it will also not provide protection against the bone loss cause by physical inactivity, smoking, alcohol abuse or bone toxic drugs. Sufficient calcium is just one of the many steps to ensure a healthy skeleton.
Calcium supplements should be considered when dietary intakes are insufficient. Calcium is not found free in nature and is usually bound to a salt (e.g. calcium carbonate, calcium citrate, calcium lactate etc). Since these salts all yield different amounts of elemental calcium (actual calcium that gets absorbed), it is important to know what the elemental calcium content of your supplement is, to know how much of it you should take per day.
Regular exercise is important at all ages as it is the only physiological way to stimulate bone formation. Individuals who exercise regularly tend to have higher peak bone mass and it also seems to slow down age-related bone loss. The exact mechanism of how exercise influences bone turnover is not known:
- The muscle pull on bone generates pizo-electrical charges on bone surfaces which stimulate osteoblast activity and bone formation.
- Exercise also causes the release of hormones that promotes bone formation.
- Exercise stimulates blood flow within the bone.
- Exercise improves balance, co-ordination and confidence- these help to prevent falls. It also strengthens muscles and flexibility, and protects against fractures even in the event of a fall.
- Weight bearing exercise like brisk walking, stair climbing, jogging or dancing is better than non-weight bearing exercise like swimming or cycling. Although it is excellent to start with these if you have not exercised in a while.
- A brisk 45 minute walk at least 3 times per week is recommended. Wear comfortable shoes with good arch and heel support.
- Exercises to improve the posture and strengthen the pelvic floor, back and stomach muscles, are also very important.
Stop smoking, limit alcohol intake and avoid bone toxic drugs
The detrimental effects of tobacco and alcohol abuse on bone tissue have already been discussed. If you are serious about your health and want to prevent osteoporosis – don't abuse these bone toxic substances.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
HRT helps to prevent the loss of bone associated with declining oestrogen production. Menopausal women at risk of osteoporosis may be advised to begin HRT.
Click here for more information on hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
Symptoms of osteoporosis
Risk factors for osteoporosis
Reviewed by Dr Gareth
Lorge FCP (SA), Specialist Physician in
private practice, Netcare Rosebank Hospital, February 2015.
Previously reviewed by
Tereza Hough, CEO, National Osteoporosis Foundation of South Africa, 2010.